Lately our two children, ages 3 and 6, have started a new game. It’s the type of game that every parent dreads. They look at each other with giant grins and shout in unison, “EEEEHHHHHHH!” as loudly as possible. It’s a sound that grates on my nerves so badly that I realized it’s time to teach my children how to use an indoor voice.
These types of irritating and mind-numbing noises is one of the things I was dreading the most this summer. Maybe you have calm and quiet kiddos, but my children are LOUD.
Chances are your children are pretty loud, too. Children are loud for a reason. As infants, crying loudly has an important function: it helps a baby get his needs met.
Thus, children are born programmed to be loud. They are not born knowing how to use a quiet, calm voice as infants. Young children simply don’t have their self-control regulated in their brains. The regulation parts of the brain do not fully develop until 25 years old.
Nonetheless, we need our children to learn to use an appropriate voice level. Besides saving a parent’s sanity, it is critical for social interactions to use the appropriate volume. The good new is a skill people can learn – you can teach your child how to use an indoor voice.
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Why Are Some People Loud Talkers?
You know that guy in your open floor plan office whose voice carries all the way to the far corner? You’re not interested in hearing about the awesome game he watched over the weekend when your report is due in a few hours. Why is he so loud? Is he just thoughtless?
What about that woman at Starbucks whose conversation you can hear across the café? You really don’t want to hear her thoughts on the latest episode of the Real Housewives. Why is she so loud? Is she just inconsiderate?
According to Dr. Amee Shah at Cleveland State University that are four reasons why people are so loud: there is a “biological component, a pathological component, a personality component and a cultural component.” Some people have larger larynx than others and some people’s vocal cords work in different ways that affect volume.
Personality affects loudness, too; out-going people can be louder than shy people. Culture and family can influence how loudly people speak, too. If you’re born into a family of loud talkers, you’ll learn to project your voice in order to be heard.
This environmental factor really plays into why your kids and my kids are so loud. If there are siblings to compete with, they learn to turn the volume on their voices up nice and loud.
Social Skills and Loud Talking
Learning to adjust volume to a situation is a complex social skill. Many adults have trouble with this for the biological, pathological, cultural and personality reasons discussed above. But some adults might also have not internalized the social skills that are also need to moderate a voice level.
Thus, it’s a struggle for children, too. They might have differences in their body that makes them prone to loudness. Plus children need to both read a social situation and use their empathy to consider how their voice affects others. This also requires the ability to monitor their own behavior which is tricky for pretty much all kids given their lack of impulse control.
We want our children, especially those who have developmental delays or social skills issues, to have their thoughts and feelings heard with peers. When they speak too loudly (or too softly), their message often gets lost. Teaching them to regulate their voice level is the first step to getting our children is be heard by others.
Similarly, you want your children to learn to empathetic to their family members. You want them to feel internally what a drag it is to listening to shouting all day and for that feeling to motivate voice regulation. You probably also want your child to understand that using a loud voice has unintended consequences for them, too. My bandwidth to do fun and complicated activities is definitely less on the days where I’ve used all my self-control not to be annoyed at the loud voices.
Ultimately, children need to learn that loud talking can have unintended social consequences.
Eight Ways to Teach Your Child to use an Indoor Voice
I’ve gathered some tips and tools for how you can teach your child to use an indoor voice.
1. Use a printable visual
Visuals are incredibly powerful for children. Our brains remember images much, much better than spoken words.
- Level 0: Silence
You might want your child to be silent when lights are out at bedtime.
- Level 1: Whisper
You might want your child to whisper to you when someone else in the family is asleep.
- Level 2: Conversation voice
You might want your child to use this voice level when you’re eating a meal as a family.
- Level 3: Loud speaker voice
This is a voice your child should master for giving a presentation at school but it’s helpful at home if you asked a question from across the room and need an answer.
- Level 4: Outdoor voice
Your child can use this loud, loud voice when playing outside, at the playground, or a sporting event.
- Level 5: Emergency voice
You want your child to understand that in a real emergency like a fire or an assault that he should be as loud as possible.
2. Model different voice levels
After you’ve shown your child the chart, you want to model each of the levels.
Start with level 0: Silence. Have your child mimic your voice level with absolute silence. Repeat with level 1: Whisper. Whisper something silly and ask your child to whisper it back to you.
Ask your child to mimic your volume for levels 2 – levels 5. You’ll want to try level 4 outside as it is the outside voice level.
It would also be helpful to practice a level 5: Emergency voice. Perhaps this would be a good time to teach your child to shout, “No! Stop! Don’t touch me!” if he is given an unwanted touch from another person.
3. Answer in a whisper
This is strategy is gold for when teachers need to get a class to listen or lower their voice levels. When a class is being too loud, if a teacher starts giving directions in a quieter voice, the class has to get quiet to listen.
Try the same thing with your children. When they shout a request, answer in a whisper so they will need to quiet down to hear your response.
4. Play Simon Says Quiet and Loud
Take your children outside to play Simon Says but add in quiet or loud instructions. Try instructions like “Simon Says shout ‘It’s a beautiful day’ in a level 4 voice” and “Simon Says whisper ‘I love my mom’ in a level 1 voice.”
5. Watch Sesame Street Quiet and Loud video
This Sesame Street video on You Tube gives a lot of great examples on when it’s appropriate to be quiet and loud.
6. Read Books
We found a few helpful books to learn about voice levels at our library.
Quiet and Loud by Leslie Patrecelli
Quiet and Loud is a sturdy board book has simple examples on each page of things that are quiet and loud. When I read it, I use quiet and loud voices to emphasize the difference for my children.
Decibella and Her 6-Inch Voice by Julia Cook
In Decibella and Her 6-Inch Voice, Isabella learns how to use a quiet voice instead of her usual loud voice. This is a great to use with loud school-aged kiddos.
Voices are not for Yelling by Elizabeth Verdick
In Voices are not for Yelling, This is a great book for preschoolers to understand the social implication from being loud.
7. Use a decibel meter
Another parent told me she finally bought a noise meter to demonstrate to her children just how loud they were being. For many children, this will be a useful teaching tool. Quantifying their loudness with numbers can be motivating for many kids.
8. Be realistic and persistent
I recently heard a mom say that teaching voice levels with a chart to her 3 & 4 year old children wasn’t working. As parents we need to be realistic about developmental readiness. Little children are loud. They have very poor impulse control. I used these same strategies with 7 & 8 year olds when I taught second grade. We need to be realistic with our expectations.
At the same time, we need to persist. Just like we’re not going to throw in the towel and give up on teaching a baby to walk or potty training a toddler, we have to persist with teaching them to use an indoor voice.
These tools and strategies are merely tools. The persistent teaching and coaching is where the magic happens.
Free Printable Voice Level Chart for Using an Indoor Voice
Grab the free printable voice level chart and start giving your children a visual anchor for their voice levels. You can have a more peaceful and quieter house with this chart and your persistent coaching.